Saito Producing at 40

Everybody knows about Billy Wagner‘s ability at the closer position, and by now most know about impressive rookie Jonny Venters holding down the Atlanta Braves bullpen. However, the best FIP on the team belongs to Takashi Saito and his 2.40 mark over 48 innings this season. This impressive performance has Saito at 1.1 WAR already, making him the third Brave reliever to top the 1.0 WAR mark this season.

It’s not terribly surprising that Saito is having a good season. CHONE and ZiPS both projected a sub-3.50 FIP out of Saito despite his advanced age – a major input for these systems. However, there were warning signs that Saito wouldn’t be as good as these projections expected, as Erik Manning pointed out in the winter.

Saito’s career K/9 of 10.9 dropped to 8.4, which is substantiated by an 80% contact rate. Compare that to a career rate of 73%. His walks were also up, as more batters sat back on his breaking stuff rather than chasing it outside of the zone.

Saito also became an extreme fly ball pitcher – 52% of his balls in play were flies, but 18% of those were of the infield variety, so that’s at least a positive here among some negatives.

Throw this and more together and out pops a 4.40 tRA – not completely terrible, but a clear decline across the board for Saito. It’s definitely not what you would want to see out of high leverage reliever.

Groundball rate typically stabilizes quickly, and so even though Saito only threw 55 innings in 2009, that’s enough to worry at least a little bit about a 15% drop in groundball rate. Whatever it was that caused the massive increase in balls in the air, it has reversed itself in 2010. Saito is once again inducing ground balls on 46% of balls in play. Combine that with a strikeout rate (12 K/9) that’s back at elite levels and a walk rate (2.6 BB/9) that’s back below average, and Saito is once again looking like an elite reliever as he did with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Swift drops across the board in a relief season like those Saito suffered in 2009 may not be worrying for a younger pitcher, as the small sample size typically has a high impact. However, when the subject is over the hill, we have to worry about legitimate deterioration of skills with age. In this case, it doesn’t appear that Saito has lost much, if anything, of what made him worth a staggering 6.9 WAR in only 189 innings from 2006-2008. The magic continues for Saito with Atlanta at the age of 40, and any hints of his career headed towards its end appear to be gone now.

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14 Responses to “Saito Producing at 40”

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  1. pele says:

    curse of the Boston pitching staff? seems every year there is a Saito or two, a guy whom sucks balls with BOS then pwns with another team.

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    • Shane says:

      But Saito didn’t suck balls with BOS…

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    • Ivdown says:

      If by “sucks balls”, you mean is better than average to good, then yes, he really sucked balls in Boston.

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    • castle says:

      I believe he is referring to Saito’s habit of salivating on baseballs to moisten them before throwing. Obviously this type of behavior is not tolerated on the Braves, so he’s stopped sucking balls since moving to the NL.

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  2. xdog says:

    He’s been first-rate, except for the brief stretch when he was hurt.

    I’m confused by your numbers. You quote Manning saying ‘52% of his balls in play were flies’ so 48% of bip were grounders, right? But then you say Saito is ‘inducing ground balls in 46% of balls in play’.

    48 versus 46 doesn’t seem much difference to hang an opinion on.

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    • Htpp says:

      He had a 52% fly ball rate last year. This year it’s down to 41%, and his GB rate is up from 30% to 46%.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      You’re confusing batted ball data from two different years, and apparently not considering line drives.

      Saito, 2009:
      17% LD
      31% GB
      52% FB

      Saito, 2010:
      14% LD
      46% GB
      41% FB

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  3. o971 says:

    This impressive performance has Saito at 1.1 WAR already, making him the third Brave to top the 1.0 WAR mark this season.

    I’m pretty sure you mean third Braves reliever. :)

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  4. Temo says:

    Last year, Saito with Boston was almost never used on back-to-back days, as he ptiched through pain in his arm.

    The Braves signed him because their doctors felt his arm was back in shape, and Cox, at least early in the season, felt free to give him a normal set-up man workload (which for Cox means much heavier usage than most managers).

    While Saito has responded with a stellar year overall, Cox has actually scaled back his usage a bit– in part due to the emergence of Jonny Venters, but also because of these splits:

    Days of Rest–K:BB ratio– Sample size (in games)

    0 Days– 3.50 ratio– 12 games
    1 Day– 2.00 ratio– 12 games
    2 Days– 11.00 ratio– 14 games
    3+ Days– 7.00 ratio– 11 games

    With 0 or 1 days of rest, he has a 2.33 K:BB ratio in 24 games.
    With 2 or more days of rest, he has a 8.60 K:BB ratio in 25 games.

    12 of the 15 runs he’s given up thus far have been in games with 0 or 1 day of rest. He’s been un-hittable with 2 or more days.

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  5. timo says:

    Saito will always be my favorite Dodger reliever.

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  6. Rut says:

    I imagine Saito was even better before he came over to the US, given how old he was when he started his career here. Though, Patrick Newman can feel free to tell me why I’m wrong about that.

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  7. Josh says:

    Some credit needs to be given to Bobby Cox in how he has used Saito. He has resisted the temptation to over use him and Saito has pitched very well in return. I can’t remember the last time Bobby pitched him on back to back nights.

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    • drumzalicious says:

      sadly its at the cost of JV being out there every game

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      • James says:

        The bright side of Cox seemingly using Venters everyday is that he’s picked up the nickname of ‘Everyday’ Jonny Venters which is pretty sweet as far as nicknames go.

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